Property Owners and Students at Odds Over New Recycling Ordinance in Normal

Normal property owners Karl and Charles Sila talk with Illinois State University students after Town Council members approved a multi-family recycling ordinance Monday night.  (Photo: Breanna Grow) 

Normal property owners Karl and Charles Sila talk with Illinois State University students after Town Council members approved a multi-family recycling ordinance Monday night.  (Photo: Breanna Grow) 

Weighing student, property owner, and environmental concerns, council members voted 4-2 in favor of Normal’s multi-family recycling ordinance Monday night, requiring property owners to offer on-site recycling by next fall.

Council members Kathleen Lorenz and Jeff Fritzen said while they support recycling, they were surprised at how quickly the Town arrived at a proposal.

“I don’t think we’ve had enough of the process,” said Lorenz, adding several property owners reached out in recent days with concerns not aired during previous meetings with Town staff.

“I feel like we’re rushing to an ordinance before we’ve investigated some of the other options that might be available to us,” Fritzen agreed.

Lorenz suggested postponing the vote one year to pilot multi-family recycling at various properties, but the Town’s corporate counsel advised that would violate rules governing council operations. Council members voted 4-2 against a second motion to table the ordinance.

Both Lorenz and Fritzen said that the 20-year solid waste management plan adopted in February calls for municipalities to first explore whether a voluntary multi-family recycling program might be feasible through a pilot program. “I guess we determined [the pilot] is not feasible,” said Fritzen. “We’re [going straight] to an ordinance.”

But others on the council disagreed with that characterization. Council member R.C. McBride said he found his cohorts’ opposition “sudden,” pointing to pre-budget discussions held earlier this year. “There was consensus among this group that we were to have to get to work right away on a multi-family recycling ordinance.”

Michael Brown, executive director of the Ecology Action Center and the county’s solid waste director, agreed he and Town staff understood from the council they wanted to move toward an ordinance.

Council members targeted the Town’s drop-box recycling program in efforts to balance this year’s budget, opting to reduce the number of drop-off sites from eight to four and let Midwest Fiber Recycling administer the program.

Council member Kevin McCarthy argued instituting a pilot program now would amount to going back on the budget decision, “asking the Town of Normal to take staff time and citizen dollars to pay for a pilot program that nobody’s required to participate in.”

“So far we haven’t seen a strong demonstration that people are willing to voluntarily do this,” he added; while property owners have the option to contract with private collectors to offer onsite recycling, the majority do not.

Two property owners addressed the council Monday, arguing “one-size fits all” is the wrong approach.

Steve Snyder co-owns Ironwood Gardens, a 454-unit apartment complex in Normal. Snyder said requiring that recycling bins be placed alongside dumpsters in a screened-in area means residents could lose up to 28 parking spots at Ironwood Gardens.

He also worried that placing recycling and trash receptacles side-by-side would lead to contamination, with property owners having to pay to fix the issue. “Each property owner needs to address this issue and figure out what works best for them.”

Karl Sila, who owns one multi-family property in Normal, said if residents feel so strongly about recycling, they should be able to choose to pay more to support onsite collection, just like single and, two-family homeowners pay to participate in the Town’s curbside recycling program.

Sila said by requiring property owners to pay for onsite recycling, the ordinance takes away tenants’ choice to pay for recycling, as property owners charge higher rents to cover the cost.

“This will also hit hardest the tenants who are most underserved and have the least economic resources,” he added.

Five Illinois State University students addressing the council Monday said the benefits of an ordinance outweigh property owners’ concerns.

Andrea Gilleran said she grew up recycling, so it came as a shock when she found out most property owners around campus didn’t offer the ability to recycle. “I just couldn’t believe that was a thing.”

Gilleran held up a binder filled with 3,000 signatures of students who agreed they should have easy access to recycling. “I’m not the only one who thinks that’s crazy.”

Gilleran said while driving 5-10 minutes to a recycling dropbox is inconvenient, many students without their own vehicle don’t even have that option. “It’s completely unfair.”

Colleen Horne said large property owners like Young America could easily pay for onsite recycling without raising rents.

“They have Connect Transit buses with their logo wrapped on them, said Horne. “I have seven Young America T-shirts in my closet right now. I have the utmost confidence they can find ways to reallocate their money to spend less on T-shirts and other marketing tools to afford recycling services for their tenants.”

Support for the ordinance has been largely student driven. With four higher education institutions nearby, Normal hosts a significant student population living in multi-family units.

Normal Mayor Chris Koos said he’s met with student groups at Illinois State University on several occasions over the last 3-4 years, “and every time, the number one priority was recycling.”

“This is not something new in our community,” he added. “The student population has been very patient with us in working on that.”

Koos agreed while the ordinance isn’t perfect -- “What works for Ironwood Gardens, as large as a facility as that is, is not the same thing as what works for a 4-unit or 6-unit [property]” -- council members and staff were open to making adjustments over the next year “so we can make this work for everyone.”